Brittany Scutchings, third-year pharmacy:
I am no stranger to the anti-vax community. Being raised by a mother who believed in traditional medicine resulted in a ban on common medicines such as Tylenol and Advil. In the present day, there is no way to live without the pharmaceuticals that help eradicate my migraines.
The measures in which my mother took to avoid “Big Pharma” were quite astounding — even going so far as to send me to a chickenpox party in third grade, hosted by a neighbour. The purpose of the party was to catch chickenpox while avoiding the need to vaccinate.
This is essentially a poor alternative to vaccination, ensuring that kids get chickenpox before adulthood as it becomes more dangerous later in life.
Mom’s skepticism came from a place of love, although rooted in fear, making this topic a difficult one as my career in pharmacy is on the horizon.
After being accepted into the college, my mom cried on the phone. Rest assured, she heard my argument that there is no better pharmacist than one who understands that western and traditional medicine can coexist.
Having this experience illuminates the struggling relationship with vaccines that many patients face today. The anti-vax debate is a compelling battle between the head and heart, and it’s especially tough considering the misinformation and anti-vax propaganda on social media.
As young health care professionals, it is our responsibility to share the facts of the subject.
Nikola Vidović, third-year pharmacy:
The development of vaccines is a rigorous process that includes multiple phases of human clinical trials, progressively increasing the subject count. The last trial contains thousands of subjects with varying levels of health.
Once trials are complete, Health Canada is responsible for verifying the safety, efficacy and quality of all vaccines for human use. Once approved, federal bodies and manufacturers all carry the responsibility of monitoring the drug and ensuring its safety.
We know that in countries where vaccination rates are high, disease rates are low, and vice versa.
Here in Canada, diphtheria rates before and after vaccination programs do a great job of illustrating vaccine effectiveness. Diphtheria is a respiratory infection that can result in serious complications; up to half of patients can die from the disease if they are not treated.
The highest number of annual diphtheria cases was 9,010 in 1924, prompting a routine infant immunization program across the country a few years after. From 1992 to 2012, just zero to four annual cases were reported.
The diphtheria example is just one of many you could point to and prove vaccine effectiveness. In short, vaccines keep yourself and those around you healthy.
Vaccination programs can also create a phenomenon called herd immunity, where the vaccinated population provides protection to those who have not been vaccinated. This is especially important for people who may not be able to be vaccinated due to being immunocompromised. This herd immunity effect contributes to an estimated 2-3 million prevented deaths worldwide each year.
From an economic standpoint, immunization programs make sense. They are one of the most cost-effective disease prevention strategies available to us — better to prevent cases than having to spend valuable healthcare resources treating cases in the hospital as they develop.
However, as Brittany’s own childhood experience displays, anti-vaccine rhetoric is still present among parents.
There are a couple of things to consider here — for one, some people are squeamish around needles. This general aversion can make it easier for people to find a reason not to get vaccinated or have their children vaccinated.
Another factor to consider is the shifting of focus from the benefits of vaccines to the potential adverse effects when vaccination programs are successful.
When successful, we see a drop in disease rates to the point where it fades from our collective conscience. When there is no tangible link to the harsh realities of a disease, one basically eradicated by the vaccine, there is a tendency to begin scrutinizing the adverse effects of vaccines rather than the benefit they have provided.
This loss of confidence can lead to a dangerous decrease in immunization rates, creating an opportunity for an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. Globally, we saw a 300 per cent increase in measles cases through the first three months of 2019, compared to last year.
Perhaps the strongest driver of anti-vaccine rhetoric has come from the internet, where professionallooking websites are sharing misinformation.
In order to get over the mental mile it can take to get vaccinated, one must address the common fear of needles. Rest assured, there are things you can do to help defeat needle phobia.
Small things can make a big difference, like looking away during the injection, laying down if you tend to get dizzy or bringing a friend to hold your hand. You can also request a topical numbing agent be applied, although this may come with a price and it may take some extra time, so plan accordingly.
Post-vaccination self-care is the best course of action — take it easy for the rest of the day. Some common side-effects you may experience are pain, swelling or redness where the shot was given, fever, chills, fatigue, headache or muscle and joint aches.
These side effects are common and are a good sign that your body is starting to build protection, otherwise known as immunity against a disease.
Never hesitate to talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider for all your vaccination-related questions or concerns.
Your student health plan offers an annual $150 for vaccinations. Students can visit the student wellness center, a local pharmacy, a walk-in clinic or a physicians’ office to get vaccinated.
Brittany Scutchings, Nikola Vidović
Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor